By Jeb Wright
John Lawton, most famous for replacing Uriah Heep vocalist David Byron back in the 1970’s, has released a unique album titled The Power of Mind. The album was written by Dr. Milen Vrabevski and the songs focus on the power of positive thinking.
The album was originally recorded by the band Diana Express in Bulgarian but when Lawton got the opportunity to re-record the vocals in English he jumped at the chance.
In the interview below Lawton discusses how he came to be involved with the project. We also discuss his first band, Lucifer’s Friend and he tells how he once got stood up by a limousine for a gig at Madison Square Garden.
Jeb: This is a very unique project that may have surprised a lot of your fans. Before we get into the nuts and bolts of the album, I have to ask if the seed of this album was planted during your time as host for a Bulgarian travel documentary.
John: No not really, I have been going to Bulgaria for the last few years and made a lot of musician friends and it was one of these who made the connection with Milen Vrabevski.
Jeb: So, the CD, originally was sung in Bulgarian?
John: Yeah Milen gave me a copy of the CD sung in Bulgarian and I have to say, I liked it immediately. The melodies were very good, the playing and production was excellent.
I had a look at the translated into English lyrics, and thank God they weren’t Google translated. Of course, I had to re-sing all the backing vocals, as well as the lead, as they were also in Bulgarian.
Jeb: What was it about Dr. Milen Vrabevski that attracted you to this project?
John: A lot of things really, his style of composing, he is also a very good musician himself and his outlook on life.
Jeb: So, Diana Express is the original band and you just put the vocals over it in the studio?
John: Yeah that’s basically it. The band has been around in various lineups since the early ‘70’s, which is when they were best known and, I suppose, in many ways they were perfect for this project. I felt no need to change anything about the production, as it just felt right.
Jeb: Tell me about the science of Positive Thinking? Was this something you were into or did you get a fire lit under you with this project?
John: I have to say at first when Milen mentioned this to me, I kind of thought, “Oh yeah, well let’s see,” but once I got started, I got it. With every song it felt like I was reading a book to a friend, with every song a different chapter.
Jeb: How does this music affect the subconscious mind?
John: Oh I don’t know, it’s down to each individual listener as to how it affects them, I suppose, if at all. We are all different and certain things affect people in different ways.
Jeb: Here is a personal question, how has this project helped you in your own life?
John: Hard to say right now, I always was a strong believer in positive thinking in many aspects of life, so I guess this project has only enhanced it.
Jeb: What is the goal with this CD? Do you want to change the way people think and perceive the world?
John: No, I want people to listen to the album as it was intended and to take something from it. Music has always been a strong influence on people’s lives throughout the centuries and, hopefully, Power of Mind can add to that.
Jeb: Will you continue on with other positive thinking albums? Is this something that you could see yourself doing on stage?
John: For me, music is as it comes. Who knows what the next project might be, I have always tried to do something different with every album I do, as Power of Mind has shown, but hey, next time, I might go completely retrograde and go right back to my blues roots.
Jeb: Is this project spiritual to you?
John: No, not really, basically I’m just a singer who happens to love what I do and which ever way the music takes me, I will follow it.
Jeb: The cool thing is that this is not a gimmick or a motivation tape of ocean sounds…it is real music. At times it rock and other times is ethereal. Are there subliminal messages? Or is it just the message of the music?
John: Just the music, no hidden messages, even if played backwards.
Jeb: I want to go back in time a bit. You replaced David Byron in Uriah Heep. Was that difficult? Byron was worshiped by fans. How hard was it to step into that roll?
John: At first, very difficult, he was a hard act to follow. All of a sudden, I appeared on the scene, a virtual unknown walking in his footsteps. I mean he was, and in many fans minds, is the only singer Uriah Heep has really ever had. I can understand that.
It took time and quite a few gigs to get the fans to accept the change.
Jeb: Heep were into a lot of drugs and alcohol abuse at the time. How did that affect the band?
John: I think the stories about the guys at that time are well documented, so it’s not really my place to add to that. It never really affected me because I never took drugs, okay the occasional joint, but nothing heavier than that. I kind of watched it all from the sidelines and, as long as we performed well, that, to me, was the main thing.
Jeb: Lucifer’s Friend was not well known in the USA. What should we go back and check out to find out what was best about that band?
John: Lucifer’s Friend had a bit of a cult following in the USA and the second album, Where The Groupies Killed The Blues, actually made the Billboard Top 100. The problem was we were a bit ahead of our time, certainly from a performing point of view. The guys themselves were brilliant musicians and we also tried to make every album different to the last one. I suppose the best way to judge Lucifer’s Friend is to listen to the first album Lucifer’s Friend and then listen to the album Banquet from 1973; that would give you some insight into the prowess of the band.
Jeb: What was the best thing about singing in Uriah Heep and what was the worst thing?
John: Hard question to answer really, we had our ups and downs, as all bands do, but I learned so much from singing with Heep. The worst thing…never finishing the fourth album, better known these days as the bootleg album 10 Miles.
Jeb: In 2002, you appeared as the Devil on the song “Magician’s Birthday” for the Heep release The Magician’s Birthday Party. I want the story of how that came to be and how it was being back with the gang again.
John: Well, Mick and the guys asked me to guest at The Magicians Birthday and, of course, I said yes. Heep are basically a family, once you join, you never leave. To do The Devil part was fun. None of the fans that were there expected it. I enjoyed that.
Of course, that wasn’t the first time I had guested with the guys. Back in ‘95 I stood in for Bernie on the South African tour, as he was having some throat problems, which thankfully for him, turned out not to be serious. And again, over the last couple of years, Mick has joined me on stage in Bulgaria as a guest and we both had parts in a Bulgarian made cinema movie called LOVE.NET, which did exceptionally well at the box office. We still get along.
Jeb: What is next for John Lawton?
John: Let see what the New Year brings. There is some new material for a follow up to Power of Mind and, you never know in the music business, what’s around the corner.
Jeb: Let’s end about the new CD. Compared to your large body of work, where does this fit in? This is such a different concept it must be hard to categorize.
John: Yeah, I suppose it is. Like I have said, I always try to do something different every time hoping the fans will accept any change. Thankfully, up until now, they have.
The bottom line is I am a singer and I love music in all its various forms, be it classical/rock/blues/ jazz. I think I am fortunate to be able find a place for my voice in all of these categories.
Jeb: Last one: I am friends with Mick Box and Ken Hensley. Heep always have had a great sense of humor. Share with me a funny moment from your time in that band.
John: There has been so many over the years…I suppose the one stand out at the moment was doing two shows at Madison Square Garden together with Jethro Tull. Our hotel was just down from the Garden and basically we could have walked it. But noooo, we had to have Limos for that short stretch. Unfortunately, the so called Limos never arrived on time, so the promoter hastily arranged another form of transport, which turned out to be a typical school bus in all its glorious yellow. Whether somebody was Taking the Mickey, I don’t know, but five very embarrassed musicians, plus entourage, kept a very low profile during that short trip.
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